In February, 2010, Barrington resident Alan MacQuattie removed a cyst from the leg of his 14-year-old Labrador mix. Mr. MacQuattie, a 63 year old disabled veteran living on social security, couldn’t afford medical care for his dog.
He was arrested and forced to pay $873 in restitution to the RISPCA, and additional charges to the court. The bills incurred by Mr. MacQuattie were more than he could afford. He was arrested again on March 18 after the Providence District Court issued a warrant for his arrest for allegedly failing to make court payments, as well as payments on the vet bill. Mr. MacQuattie was at one point forced to ask for donations in a Barrington shopping district, where he was allegedly again threatened with arrest.
The story made national news, and local donors ultimately helped Mr. MacQuattie with expenses. There is no record that town officials offered a helping hand. The irony being that in 1936, a benefactor from Barrington, the late Wilton H. Spencer, created the Amey Tucker Spencer Fund (Spencer Trust) providing resources to town officials to help “the poor and unfortunate people of said Town of Barrington”.
The Spencer Trust is a multi-million dollar Barrington trust fund left to the town in the will of Mr Spencer. The will was filed in probate in 1936. For a certain period of time, Spencer heirs would benefit, and then the money was to go into the Amey Tucker Spencer Fund to help the poor and unfortunate people of the Town of Barrington. At around 2002, the remaining money would have come to the town, but some Spencer heirs initiated a lawsuit, which was settled in 2005.
There is no doubt that town officials were aware of the Spencer Trust. The record shows withdrawals going back to 2008 on behalf of entities such as the affordable housing developer, Providence-based West Elmwood Housing Corp, and the law firm of Ursillo, Teitz and Ritch. The town also purchased property on George Street, and have paid expenses to others. The poor and unfortunate Mr. MacQuattie received no offer of help despite the wide publicity of his plight.
A question remains - did the Spencer Trust allow for payments to corporations, and what was guiding the trustees on withdrawals? There had been no meeting of the six trustees (five Town Councilors and the Town Treasurer) to enact by-laws. There was no proper application process for Mr. MacQuattie, or any other town resident, to follow. Only a handful of town residents knew the trust even existed. How was it that a trust fund dedicated to “help the poor and unfortunate people” of Barrington was being used to benefit corporations and attorneys?
On March 12, 2012, seven years after the lawsuit was settled, the Barrington Town Council took up the issue of creating the Spencer Trust By-Laws. Per the transcript of this 2012 town council meeting, Council President June Speakman asked Town solicitor Michael Ursillo to “explain what’s going on here”.
The discussion that followed opened up more questions than explanations. According to the record, this was a meeting of the Town Council, not a meeting of all the Spencer Trustees. Further, it appeared that the proposed by-laws contained language that attempted to change Mr. Spencer’s original intent when he created the trust.
As the March 2012 council meeting progressed, the phrase “help people”, as contained in the original will, was changed to “benefit persons” (“People” are people, but “persons” includes corporations). This occurred at multiple times in the meeting where town solicitor, Mr. Ursillo, stated: “that’s the language directly from the will”. This is not true.
Equally problematic, an attempt was made to create an ability for the Spencer Trust to accumulate multiple years of income earmarked for large projects such as “affordable housing” projects rather than serving the annual needs of town residents as the Spencer Trust directs the trustees to do.
In the end, the only councilor to recognize something was wrong was Councilor Bill DeWitt who voted “No” to the By-Laws.
A town hall meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, January 28, 2013, 6 pm, to allow the proper trustees to finally meet as one group and correct errors in the By-Laws. A segment of the trustee’s believe that the Spencer Trust should be re-written to support affordable housing developers.
Residents need to be at this public meeting to voice their concern and support for the late Wilton Spencer’s actual intent to annually “help the poor and unfortunate people” of Barrington. Well financed Providence based corporations should not be the target beneficiaries of the Spencer Trust.